In this study, we report on a novel approach based on modification of the intestinal surface to prevent diarrhea caused by enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC). The removable intestinal tie adult rabbit diarrhea (RITARD) model was used to test the efficacy of an enteric-coated protease preparation (Detach; Enzacor Technology Pty. Ltd.) in the prevention of bacterial attachment and diarrheal disease caused by colonization factor antigen I-positive (CFA/I+) E. coli H10407. Protease was administered orally to rabbits 18 h prior to challenge with 10(11) bacteria. Four groups of rabbits were inoculated with different ETEC strains which produced different combinations of adhesin and enterotoxin or with sterile phosphate-buffered saline. Occurrence of diarrhea during the subsequent 24-h incubation period was recorded. Oral administration of protease was successful in reducing diarrhea and diarrhea-induced death in six of seven (86%) rabbits infected with CFA/I+, heat-stable and heat-labile toxin-positive E. coli (H10407). Seven of eight (87%) rabbits not protected by protease treatment died or developed severe diarrhea. Quantitative analysis of bacterial cultures obtained from the small intestine of rabbits showed a significant (P less than 0.001) 2,000-fold reduction in CFU per centimeter of intestine following treatment with protease. The efficacy of protease treatment was 99.5%, with very wide confidence limits (greater than 0 to 99.9%). The data indicate that the use of protease to prevent ETEC diarrheal disease has considerable potential.